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The Fighter
  • November 13, 2011 : 20:11
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In contrast to some of the larger estates on his street, Walker’s 7,300-square-foot, $2.5 million Mediterranean villa is relatively modest, but it is far beyond the budget of most of the fighters who train at the American Kickboxing Academy. “I’m a different kind of MMA guy,” he says matter-of-factly. “My life is different.” Walker’s stone driveway abuts a koi pond and fountain. Spanish arches grace the facade of his house. Inside there’s a wine cellar and a screening room. Upstairs a gym is under construction.

Walker has lived here for only several months. During the previous 10 years he was ensconced in a sleek downtown Dallas penthouse. But with Christian, his 12-year-old son by his marriage to ex-wife Cindy, approaching the age when a big yard seemed mandatory, it was time to move. “Christian is my little man,” he says.

Breakfast finds Walker and Blanchard, a dark-haired woman who is a vice president at CBS Outdoor Advertising, seated in ­Vaquero’s well-appointed clubhouse. Walker’s diet is more idiosyncratically Spartan than his idiosyncratically Spartan fitness routine. He eats only one meal a day, dinner, and is particular even then, limiting himself to lentil soup, salad, bread and an occasional chicken cutlet. He cheerfully admits to washing down Kit Kat bars with Coca-Cola. “Nutritionists say that’s bad for you,” Walker concedes but then demands, “If that’s so, why am I doing okay with it?” (Walker’s physique is so flawless that he appeared nude in ESPN The Magazine’s 2010 “Body” issue.) Still, he loves the ritual of dining. Even over an empty plate he relishes the give and play of conversation between friends amid the clinking of glasses and silverware. After the waiter brings Blanchard her eggs and bacon and Walker a solitary glass of iced tea, he takes her hand and says a simple prayer: “Dear heavenly father, please bless this food that nourishes our lips, and bless our family.”

For all his ferocity in the MMA cage, Walker is an inherently sweet-natured, deeply religious homebody. He does not drink alcohol, and he does not curse. His idea of fun is to romp around his back porch with Christian and Cheerio, a golden retriever puppy that has the run of the place, or to plop down in front of any of his several televisions, all of which are permanently tuned to DVRed episodes of Judge Judy. A criminal justice major in college, he agrees with her no-nonsense verdicts and finds her acerbic worldview amusing.

Not that Walker allows himself much time for relaxation. Most days he is flying to New York, Las Vegas, Detroit or Fort Lauderdale. If he is in Dallas, he is tied up in endless rounds of conference calls. Although he made his first fortune in football, he has made a second one in the food business, and running it is an all-consuming affair. Walker launched Renaissance Man Food Services 12 years ago as “a little family concern” with just one offering—home-style chicken tenders prepared from his mother’s recipe. In the following decade he appeared at thousands of culinary trade shows across the country. “I always say to ex-athletes, ‘Guys, your name will get the door open, but unless you’ve got some substance you can’t get a seat.’ ”

Today Walker’s company consists of two divisions, including a recently purchased hospitality unit, and employs 300 people. Corporate offices are in Georgia. From three plants in Arkansas he distributes chicken sliders, chicken wings, chicken breast fajita strips and a host of other food items to clients that include the MGM Grand, Caesars Palace, the Hard Rock Cafe and ­McDonald’s. Last year his sales topped $80 million. “Somebody told me we’re the largest minority-owned chicken company in the United States,” he says, adding after a deadpan pause, “I don’t know if that means anything, as we may be the only minority-owned chicken company in the United States.”

Walker has achieved the dream of every famous jock, trading on his notoriety to create an enterprise that has paid for expensive toys (his 63-vehicle custom-car collection features a $250,000 Shelby KR) and should enable him to take care of himself and his family into perpetuity. He estimates his fortune at $25 million. If he wanted to he could coast from here on out. Yet Walker does not know how to coast.

“I think what people don’t realize is that we all have to get up and fight it every day,” he says during an afternoon lull in his schedule. “Life isn’t easy. Life is not easy. People think things ought to be given to you, but nothing is given to you. You gotta go out and earn it. Sometimes you gotta take it. Every day I get up and fight. Every day I’ve got to fight.”

Jerry Mungadze was in his office in the Dallas suburb of Bedford one evening several years ago when he picked up the phone and heard Herschel Walker say, “I’m in trouble.” A psychologist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder, Mungadze met the football legend in the building’s lobby. “Herschel was very distraught,” he says. “He was crying. He was in pain. He was hurting emotionally.”

Walker sought out Mungadze, whom he’d known casually since the 1980s, because a few days earlier he had armed himself with a handgun and driven to a meeting with the intention of killing a man whose sole offense had been to keep him waiting for the delivery of a custom automobile. According to Walker, an insistent voice inside his head said, “You don’t disrespect me. I’ve spent too much time with people disrespecting me.” He believes he would have committed murder had he not seen a smile, jesus loves you bumper sticker on the rear of his intended victim’s hauling van. The familiar maxim broke the spell. Still, he had come shockingly close to shooting someone—and not for the first time. On several occasions he had pointed a gun at his wife’s head, and more than once he had played Russian roulette. “I was on my way to prison,” he says, “or being dead.”

Mungadze met with Walker for weeks and arrived at a controversial diagnosis. Many psychologists believe that dissociative identity disorder, or DID, as it is better known, is not so much a bona fide condition as hysteria born of depression. This view holds that for every Sybil, the character suffering from a genuine split personality in the Sally Field film of the same name, there are thousands who contend with something less dramatic. But Mungadze was convinced that Walker had DID. “His was not one of the depressive syndromes. He was not clinically depressed.”

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read more: sports, magazine, interview, issue december 2011


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